A mere 14 months ago, redshirt junior quarterback Taylor Kelly was a nobody.
Buried at third on the depth chart, it didn’t look like Kelly would start. But he continued to work and improve through last fall, and in late August, Kelly was named the Sun Devils’ starting quarterback.
This season, things are different. Kelly knows he’s the starter, but he still prepares as if he isn’t.
“I have to work even harder than when I wasn’t sure,” Kelly said. “I gotta continue to grow in every single rep. I gotta take every single rep I get like it’s the Pac-12 championship game and to attack every practice and be the leader out here.”
Being the starting quarterback requires serving as a team leader, and Kelly has made a point of improving on that.
Although leadership skills are a thing Kelly said he has always had, they have truly blossomed over the fall, enough to get offensive coordinator Mike Norvell’s attention.
“When you take the field and you’ve got a confidence that you’re going to be able to get the job done and that you’ve got a football team of 10 other guys on an offense that have seen the way you work … that’s something that’s been fun to watch develop,” Norvell said.
Norvell has also seen an increased offensive command from Kelly. After a year in the system, Kelly knows the plays better and sees where people are supposed to line up, he said. Norvell’s also noticed that Kelly has a better grasp of reading the defense.
Norvell still sees room for Kelly to improve from last year when he threw for 3,039 yards and finished second in school history with 29 passing touchdowns while only tossing nine interceptions.
Kelly has a high bar to which he must step up, especially with the Sun Devils’ lofty aspirations, Norvell said.
“You look at last year, the guy who quarterbacked the national champion (Alabama senior AJ McCarron) (threw) 30 touchdowns, three interceptions,” Norvell said. “You want to win a championship, you gotta protect the football at the quarterback spot, and that’s something he’s working hard to do.”
To improve on his numbers from 2012, Kelly will need to continue to build chemistry with the players who catch the football for him, something he’s been working on with senior Kevin Ozier and the rest of the wideouts.
Kelly and the receivers spend time after every practice doing extra ball drills. Off the field, they watch film together, go out to eat or just hang out.
“He invited me and a couple other receivers to his house just to chill off the field,” Ozier said. “He’s getting more involved; our relationship has gotten stronger. … It’s not just all football talk; it’s personal, getting to know him more, too.”
It’s been a crazy year for Kelly. Occasionally, he looks back on where he’s come from, but his sight is firmly set on what lies ahead.
“I do look back on where I’m from and how I got here and (for) that I’m grateful,” Kelly said. “I wouldn’t be here without God and my family and friends, so I’m grateful for all of the opportunities that I’ve gotten and I have to make the most out of them.”
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